Capital expenditure by Australian businesses could fall further than during the financial crisis amid an end to the commodity "super cycle", and as global corporate investment struggles to recover, an international survey has found.
Business investment in Australia, dominated by the mining sector, could slip by 12 per cent this year and more than 20 per cent next year, ratings agency Standard & Poor's said in a report. Such falls would reverse the 20 per cent of growth during the past two years.
"The estimated decline in spending, if realised, would be the worst capex growth figures for Australia in the 10-year period we have data for, exceeding the downturn that followed the global financial crisis," S&P credit analyst Terry Chan said.
At the same time, global capital expenditure, which has been dependent on the energy and materials industries, appeared to be stalling before it had even started to recover, and looked to be weak over the next few years.
"Despite a modest post-financial crisis recovery, real-terms capital expenditure growth slowed in 2012 and is expected to turn negative in 2013. Early indications for 2014 are even more pessimistic, suggesting a 5 per cent contraction," Mr Chan said.
The survey of 2000 firms around the world, including Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton, came as China, Australia's largest trading partner, warned of slower growth as the central government implemented sweeping economic reforms.
Chinese Finance Minister Lou Jiwei said economic growth of 6.5 per cent would not be a "big problem", adding he was confident of 7 per cent growth this year. The economic powerhouse is set to report its second-quarter GDP data on Monday. The S&P survey of 91 Chinese companies also forecast business investment on the mainland to slide by 4 per cent this year and 6 per cent in 2014.
Mr Chan said a fall in investment by Chinese firms was reflected in the country's weaker first-quarter GDP figures. The slower growth could hit Australian exports to the country.
Business conditions and confidence have remained soft in Australia, with NAB's monthly survey for June falling to a four-year low as trading, profits and employment conditions weakened.
A drop in capital expenditure would hit Australian banks, which have continued to experience subdued personal and business lending over the past few years.
Business credit rose by 0.1 per cent in May and 0.2 per cent in April, figures released by the Reserve Bank in late June showed. Business credit grew by 0.9 per cent over the year to May.
S&P said the dominance of the energy and materials sectors in total global capital expenditure had created a "fair degree of dependency". Business investment growth lifted just 2 per cent last year and could potentially decline by 2 per cent this year.
"Downward pressure on corporate capex in Australia is a troubling harbinger in this regard, with the scale of projected decline in 2013 [and] 2014 suggesting mining and commodity companies are anticipating a major downswing."